For his amazing 1984 film version of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus, Milos Foreman didn't just utilize gorgeous sets and costumes and Oscar-caliber performances by F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce, but worked closely with Shaffer for months to turn his brooding play into a screenplay brimming with airy life. This is a transformative commitment rare in cinematic translations, and the resulting affect is telling: Quite simply, Shaffer's source material, a one-time Tony winner, drags in comparison.
Probably well aware of his lavish screen competition, the director of Lakewood's current stage production of Amadeus, Bill Dobson, foregoes big-budget gimmicks for a stripped-down approach. The focus of the late-1700s Vienna action rests on the stage's vast, faux marble floor. It's an intriguingly large amount of space, but as the famous Italian composer Antonio Salieri (Kevin Connell) plots against his brilliant young rival Mozart (Leif Norby) Dobson does little to utilize it. His actors stand in stiff triangle formations, their hands clasped regally behind their backs. This may be factually accurate, but it doesn't make for very exciting viewing, especially since Shaffer's text is loaded with that time-tested killer of dramatic momentum, The Audience Aside. At every key juncture, Salieri must turn out for a recap of what just happened, or a summary of what he is feeling as he watches the ingenious Mozart struggle, while Salieri's works, like some watered down 18th-Century pop starlet, thrive the world over.
Kevin Connell is a good actor, switching skillfully between a middle-aged Salieri and an older, dying version looking back on his life--but the sheer amount of contrived language he must emit gets the best of him, and he resorts to screaming whenever there's a call for emotional angst. Leif Norby's Mozart is surprisingly subdued, and often even cloyingly weepy; not the massive force of intellect and charisma needed to bring down a man like Salieri.
It's harmful and pointless to compare a theatrical production to a film production, but purely as an art form in and of itself, Foreman's Amadeus took a preexisting story and turned it into something new and fresh. There was a reason he did that.